Polish Displaced Persons in between imagined homeland and imagined "Small Poland"
(University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
After WWII Polish Displaced Persons found themselves in temporary and makeshift refugee camps, where they created visions of their future life and of an imagined exile community. This paper analyse the process of building camps communities in the shadow of debates on repatriation and resettlement.
Paper long abstract:
In the aftermath of WWII millions of former soldiers, slave labourers and other Poles in Germany, Austria and Italy were categorized as Displaced Persons and directed to "assembly centres" which were designed to facilitate their repatriation. These camps became the centres of national life and discussion of people's options. Polish Displaced Persons in the refugee camps found themselves between communists and UNRRA who promoted their repatriation and, on the other hand, the Polish government-in-exile and General Anders' officers who issued warnings about the new regime. Those who waited for repatriation were mentally suspended between their future in Poland and their daily life in the camp. Those who refused to return home faced an uncertain future and felt the nostalgia towards the lost homeland. They started to build communities based on different visions of the good society and membership of the Polish exile community. Displaced Persons renamed the camps to express an affiliation with Poland. Their mental map of Germany became dotted with Polish names from the national spiritual repository. The topographical reconfiguration of the space of some camps was completed by organizing and naming the streets after prewar Polish cities and by adding names in honour of military units and leaders. This paper analyses the process of building Polish communities in the shadow of debates on repatriation and resettlement. Drawing on memoirs and other personal accounts I will explore Poles' personal expressions about repatriation and/or building an ersatz of Poland and a "normal" life outside their homeland.
Refugee visions and realities: interpreting time with people on the move